What’s your mission in life? Mine is connection and oneness – connecting at a heart level with as many people as possible and then connecting them to others so that we may eventually – as a collective energetic force of like-minded beings – completely collapse the illusion of separateness on this planet. Wow. That sounds pretty lofty, even to me. And truthfully, I have been struggling with the “how” of this mission and wondering what hallucinogenic substance I must have inhaled to possess me to give up a fun and exciting job that I loved, move out of the world’s best city and into a national park where the majority of my neighbours are either bush turkeys or over 80 years old and the pace is… leisurely.
I’m a go-at-100mph person. That’s my default position. I don’t walk, I run; I multi-task to the point of checking and responding to emails whilst driving (I’ve stopped that now because yes, I do realise how dangerous it is); I don’t just eat one almond or raisin or M&M, I grab a handful and throw them down my throat as I’m walking from one room to the next; I drive too fast, think too much and am generally impatient. I like vacuuming because of the instant gratification it brings (and I vacuum like I’m on a dance floor). The idea of yoga or pilates used to bore me to tears – all that focus and concentration on a point in your body that you can’t even really see or feel without any immediate results seemed pointless. And when I first listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” on mindfulness, I laughed out loud when he suggested we place just one raisin in our mouth and keep it there for five minutes to really explore the raisin’s textures, tastes, properties and characteristics. Five minutes. One raisin. Are you for real? Why would you want to do that? Why would anyone want to be so intimately connected with a dried grape?
That was more than 10 years ago and it has taken me a solid decade of self-work, awareness practices and rather long and sometimes forced meditation sessions to get me to the point where I can sit through the entire 70 minute Dalai Lama chant in complete stillness and presence (well… sometimes anyway) and where, up until a month ago, I believed I lived in Mind-Body-Spirit connection enough of the time to guide others down a similar road. But what I recently realised is that I’ve been missing a fundamental distinction.
What I didn’t understand until about a month ago was that “oneness” begins internally, with self, and so the idea of Mind-Body-Spirit (MBS) as three separate parts that you connect together by faithful but independent disciplines in meditation, academia, exercise, nutrition etc. actually perpetuates the very separateness that is keeping us all apart. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and each part is also a perfect microcosm of the whole. Am I losing you? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it myself but here’s what I now know: just because I meditate, I exercise and eat well (for the most part) and I keep my mind (relatively) sharp by constantly learning new things does not mean mind-body-spirit are connected to the point of oneness. In fact, I realised I have been in a state of disconnect because although I was engaging in various MBS pursuits, I was doing each of these in a silo and as part of my daily “To Do” list. It wasn’t until I was grunting my way through a workout at Upcountry Fitness in Maui last month, after three weeks of green smoothies and raw foods, that something clicked and I had a brief knowing of true internal oneness.
I imagine that anyone who is intimately familiar with Tai Chi, yoga, pilates or any of the more mindfulness based martial arts has experienced this seamless connection and flow between Mind, Body and Spirit countless times but its all new territory for me so I’m excited to share, particularly as I now know there are more ways to get there then 56,000 Downward Dogs.
The owner of Upcountry Fitness, Izaak Tyrrell, is the first truly holistic trainer I have ever worked with and he embraces the concept of “training to train”. Usually, when I go the gym I don’t Mickey Mouse around and faff about. I’m a “no pain, no gain; go hard or go home” type person and I am usually aware of every intense minute until I’m finished. Izaak’s philosophy is to really engage with what you are doing and to continuously create the foundation to train 80% of the time and then ‘go for it’ when you really need to. The penny dropped for me when he had me do an exercise that took all my focus, all my concentration and all my grounding, together with mindful connected breathing and massive slowing down, to get through even one rep. He put two weights in my hand and a Bosu in front of me and told me to lunge step onto the ball, and then “float” up on one foot as I was raising the weights over my head as if they were “wings” before “gently like a feather” bending down from the hip (still on one leg, still balanced on the Bosu) to touch my right foot with my left hand (still carrying a weight) and then “float back up” and then touch my raised foot back to the ground before doing this again. Ten times on each leg, ten sets – 200 reps in total. Have you ever head of anything so ridiculous?
At first I wobbled all over the place, tried to power through it, toppled over, swore and thought what a ludicrously impossible exercise this was for me. I can barely balance on one leg on terra firma let alone balance on one leg standing on a ball with weights in my hand, being asked to float up high, drift like a feather and then touch one toe with the opposite hand. What a joke. The only way I could even get through one rep was through ferocious concentration and intense focus – being so completely immersed in the absolute present moment that everything else fell away while my mind and my body started truly speaking with each other and eventually, acting as one. After a while, there was just movement and flow and I was doing the exercise without any kind of strain or resistance even though a part of me was aware that this should be hard. Then, after a little while longer, I felt a sort of descent. I kind of inverted and I really felt how light my body was after all the greens and raw foods I had been consuming and I experienced a Being-ness and stillness that I had never experienced before, even in all of the meditation I have done. At that point, I was unable to count the reps or the sets, I was just in this amazing slipstream of flow and awareness, strength and power. I just kept floating up and feathering down until my arms literally stopped working. And to my complete amazement, I saw that I had been on the Bosu for 50 minutes.
For me, this kind of compound physical exercise is a way towards greater understanding of internal oneness and connection but there are countless other ways to get there. The most important thing for all of us is to slow down. We can’t keep up with the pace we’ve set for ourselves – I don’t know anyone who can. Secondly, what I have realised (even more) is how truly vital it is to exercise the body, keep the internal rivers flowing and pay attention to how and what we eat. The first step is awareness, the second step is practice, the third step is connection between the moving parts and eventually, there is oneness. Even if its only there for the briefest moment, it is still a tiny step forward.
Having said all this, I got a camera-detected penalty notice for speeding last week, I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks and I opened my eyes and looked at the clock at least twice during a 20 minute meditation yesterday. I’m no saint, l don’t always practice what I preach and perfection is not the goal. Connection is the goal and today its just about connecting a few more dots… and getting my ass to the gym for a quick run on the treadmill!